Christian Perspectives on Covid and Vaccinations (Part I)

Over a year into the Covid epidemic, it seems that it is still consuming much of the energy and attention of our nation. The latest is that it seems that you can’t go anywhere without people discussing their vaccinations. The media have pivoted (a little) from trumpeting fear and bombarding us non-stop with grim stories of death and disease to stories about all things vaccination. Many people have organized their lifestyles around the availability of Covid vaccine shots, and we have even seen some who have been self-isolating for months now beginning to come out publicly for the first time in over a year after their shots, now that vaccines are finally widely available. (It’s good to see some people at Mass for the first time in a year!)

In the midst of this, though, governmental agencies such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are encouraging people to continue to practice social distancing and wear masks even after vaccination. Ohio is relatively open, but in some states access to religious services and Mass is still severely restricted. In one testy exchange in a congressional hearing, an Ohio Congressman grilled the chief presidential medical advisor about when restrictions on personal freedoms would be lifted and whether there was any objective standard to make that decision. The medical officer refused to answer the question.

Because some people are resistant to taking vaccine shots, the issue of vaccinations and the trade-offs between health protection and personal liberty have become very divisive in our nation. So it is important to look at these issues not through the lens of the media and politicians (who thrive on controversy and quests for political power) but rather from a more prayerful and thoughtful Christian perspective. What is that perspective? First, on the question of vaccines, they have been promoted by many governmental agencies as an unmitigated good. Some (self-proclaimed) experts have even held that people have a duty to take them, and that if you don’t, you are being reckless about others health and even “unpatriotic.”

But how do Christians looks at it? The first thing to note is that the Church stands firmly in favor of the use medical science to alleviate human suffering when possible and to restore the body to full health. Contrary to some anti-Catholic tropes that she is anti-science, the Church was instrumental in developing the scientific method that made medical research possible. We also believe as Catholics that God gave to the human mind the ability to share in His creative power and use his knowledge to help our societies flourish. So the development of drugs and vaccines to alleviate illness is generally a very good thing.

But there are some “caveats” (some things to watch out for). One is the bedrock principle that immoral means can never be used to achieve an end, even if a good comes out of them. (For example, we can’t deliberately hasten the death of someone who is dying, in order to take his organs to transplant to someone else in need). The question of vaccines is particularly complex. One significant problem is that all of the three “Big Pharma” manufacturers whose vaccines are currently being administered in the United States have been in some ways complicit in the grave sin of abortion in getting that vaccine off the developmental shelf and into your arm. Some of them have used cells from aborted children in the development process and others in the testing process. (Johnson and Johnson’s is the worst of the three in this regard. It is best to take one of the others if you have an alternative).

So there has quite a controversy about whether it is be morally permissible to take these vaccines. Even though a great good can come from them (protection of one’s own health and slowing the spread of a nasty disease), a grave evil was involved (the killing of an innocent child). After very careful study of this complex question, the Church has concluded that it is morally acceptable to take any of them, because the evil is distant enough from the vaccine-receiver that he is not morally responsible for that evil. But it is very important to note that the Church is saying only that this is morally acceptable, not morally obligatory. That means each individual is free to decide in his conscience whether he wants to be associated in any way, even indirectly, with the evil of abortion.

Importantly, the bishops have said that, for those who choose to take the vaccine, we should do everything reasonably possible to protest the manufacturers involvement in the evil of abortion. Unfortunately, this message seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle, as so many rushed to be vaccinated to alleviate fear of contagion. (Please see the parish blog, April 19th for more on protesting this injustice). This is especially important since it appears quite likely that booster shoots will be needed annually for the Covid vaccine, and there is currently no vaccine near production stage that is not in any way abortion-tainted. (For more details on this, see the website of a fine pro-life organization named the Charlotte Lozier Institute.)

In other words, if the Church does not act soon to put pressure on manufacturers to refrain from immorality in vaccine production and testing, then we may be complicit in evil for a long time to come. I’ll write a follow-up column sometime soon about related issues about these Covid-related questions.

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